WASHINGTON (Feb. 28)
The United States and Israeli governments were clearing the way today for the momentous meeting Thursday night at the White House between President Carter and Premier Menachem Begin that may seal the fate of the Camp David frameworks which are now in deepest trouble.
White House and State. Department sources following Carter’s news conference announcement yesterday that Begin would be meeting with him, informed selected reporters that the two man summit was the President’s rescue effort of his diplomatic initiative in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and crucial to his foreign policy generally.
The President’s personal commitment to an Egyptian-Israeli agreement was evidenced in his discussion in various ways yesterday and last night. Informed sources, both pro-Carter and anti-Carter, appeared to agree that the President would seek to induce Begin–some call it pressure, others persuasion–to move much closer to the views of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and preserve the Camp David frameworks and Sadat’s power in Egypt.
The duration of the Carter-Begin summit meeting and the other participants were undetermined. Carter was scheduled to go to California this weekend but that trip has been cancelled. The President cancelled a dinner meeting in Los Angeles which was being seen as a failure anyway from an attendance standpoint, while a rival dinner was scheduled with a paid newspaper advertisement critical of Carter’s Middle East policies.
DESPERATE GAMBLE BY CARTER
Two sets of facts outlined sharply the differences between Carter and Begin. One deals with the Carter approaches. The President twice this week took what are considered desperate gambles to save his extensive investment in the Mideast peace effort.
One was his announcement Sunday that he would be meeting with Begin and Egyptian Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil before even consulting Begin about it. This rankled Israelis and their friends in the United States, for it was seen as humiliating Israel in putting Sadat on a level above Begin. The second Carter gamble was inviting Begin to come to Washington to meet with him alone without apparently closing gaps in their views beforehand.
Carter spoke yesterday at least three times in defense of his view that the gaps between Egypt and Israel are minor. He told Congressional leaders, in effect, at the White House that the differences were small potatoes. Before television cameras, the President said “some progress” was made last week at Camp David at the ministerial meeting and that he did not share the view that the Egyptian demands in a treaty with Israel would make the Camp David accords “meaningless.”
Last night, at a State Dinner in the White House honoring the nation’s governors, the President said it is “almost disgusting” how close Israel and Egypt are to a peace treaty but how for apart they continue to be.
“If these talks (with Begin) open up opportunities for improvement, I have no doubt that Sadat will be here immediately to resume negotiations,” Carter said at the dinner. He added that both Egypt and Israel “yearn so deeply for peace and we have absolutely insignificant differences that are now creating insurmountable obstacles.”
CARTER’S CONTENTION DISPUTED
Key Senators, however, disputed Carter’s contention. Some noted that the intensified pan-Arab and Islamic views now spreading throughout the Middle East could lead Egypt into rejoining the rejectionist Arab states unless sufficient progress is made by Israel on the West Bank to grant ever increasing rights and authority to the Palestinians there. In the absence of this, they observed, Egypt’s support from moderate Arab states might be disrupted and she could find herself even more isolated than now. This, in addition to other flash points in the Mideast, also led some Senators to believe that Israel is clearly reasonable in being wary about giving up its strongholds in Sinai.
“That makes minor wording differences in the treaty very major indeed, “one Senator said who asked that his name be withheld because he did not wish to publicly dispute the President.” “Everybody knows off-treaty issues are bigger than the treaty issues between Israel and Egypt,” another Senator said. The Middle East is more dangerous now than at the time of the Camp David meetings in September, he said, because of the Iranian situation and the clear support of the Palestine Liberation Organization by the Islamic revolutionary authorities in Iran.
Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R.NY); the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking minority member, said that the Egyptian-Israeli situation is “very tense and ticklish.” He said he was “appalled that we should be having problems with Sadat on his coming to Washington when we were so generous and strong in our support of him. I cannot understand it. The President must have both leaders here. It is in the highest interest of the United States and in their interest to get this agreement signed.”
Sen. Richard Stone (D. Fla.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Middle East subcommittee said although it can be said that the differences in wording that separate Egypt and Israel are relatively minor, the differences in impact are very major because of the heightened risks caused by the Iranian situation and the increased pan-Arab pressure. The underlying dangers have increased and both parties are clearly re-examining the basis of the progress so far in the light of the increased danger.
Sen. Adlai Stevenson (D, III.), who is considering running next year as a thirds party candidate for President, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “I have always been concerned that if Israel gave up the Sinai and the Egyptian government changed, Arab solidarity would be strengthened by oil and by events such as now have happened in Iran that would bring Egypt back into a stronger united Arab camp.”
But, he added, “it would not be the end of the world. That may mean we would get back to a more hopeful process. Camp David postponed war but it also postponed peace.” Stevenson explained that he never held much hope in the step-by-step approach to a Middle East peace and that “sooner or later, we would have to get back to the hard work of diplomacy.”